I ask this question because I saw it posed on a message board today. Well, it wasn’t posed. Someone answered by stating that the difference in his BABIP in 2010 compared to 2012 proves he has been unlucky in 2012. But has he been unlucky in 2012?
The short answer is that, indeed, based on his BABIP Pedro Alvarez has been unlucky. However, I think his struggles in 2012 (and last year) are more because he just isn’t that good rather than luck. That is – he has been unlucky, but not as much as his raw BABIP data would suggest. The reality is, the BABIP posted in his freshman season very well likely could be his high water mark.
One point to make as I look a bit more into this: I think the BABIP stat is way overused in an effort to make someone look better when they have been really bad. Alvarez has been really bad. BABIP will swing quite a bit season-to-season (see below) and simply concluding that a low BABIP equals a lack of luck is far too simplistic.
Prior to today’s game against the Indians in which Pedro poked two homers, his BABIP in 2012 was .239. When he struggled badly last year it was .272. In his rookie campaign, his BABIP was a robust .342. That’s a span of .102 between his high and low (to date). A couple of questions:
1. Which is the outlier? The .342 or the .239?
2. What is a typical span of BABIP for a player getting 200 PAs in a single season?
I can’t answer #1 at this point with any certainty. His career is too young. But making claim that he is unlucky is making the assumption that his .342 is the general area where his career BABIP will rest when his career ends. Rod Carew’s career BABIP was .359. Willie Stargell was at .314. Dave Kingman was at .252. But, it certainly appears that Alvarez’ career numbers would trend toward a more middling BABIP than those posted by Carew or Stargell. I doubt his career BABIP will be lower than .239. If his career BABIP is say, .265, then we will look back on the 2012 season (at least at this point) and conclude he has been unlucky. But he hasn’t been unlucky as much as some would think.
The reason why he hasn’t been as unlucky as some would think is because the answer to #2 is that the span between the high water mark BABIP and low water mark BABIP of players getting 200 or more PAs in a season is pretty high. I ran the data for every season in which a player had 200 PAs or more going back to 2000 (up through 2011). 968 different players have done so, covering 4,133 player seasons. The overall span in BABIP for anyone who accomplished the feat in more than one season is .063. So, isolating this data, someone who posts a BABIP that is around .300 for his career can expect a swing from .270 to .330 as being normal.
How many guys have a swing of .090 points or more? Nearly one in five do. Out of the 746 players with two seasons or more of 200 or more plate appearances, 140 players (just shy of 19%) have a swing in their BABIP of .090 points or more.
My conclusion is that Pedro’s span in BABIP isn’t that unusual and he hasn’t been all that unlucky. The reality is that he just hasn’t been that good. Luck has had little to do with it.